What is all the bother about Bokeh?

 

50mm lens; f/1.8; 1/1000; ISO 100

WHAT IS “BOKEH”?

It’s a Japanese word with no direct translation, but it describes the aesthetically appealing blur in the background of images like the one above. It describes the smooth, painterly and attractive blurring of colours  and also the blurred circles where there are highlights.

Bokeh is highly desirable in images as it is aesthetically pleasing and creates a lovely background against which your subject can stand out.

 

55mm lens; f/2.5; 1/1000; ISO 320

Bokeh is sometimes mistakenly thought to be only circular but it can also be attractive “smudges” of colour too – like the tree trunk in this image above. The circular areas are where the highlights are.

HOW TO CREATE BOKEH

It’s mainly down to the lens you are using. Prime (or fixed) lenses create better bokeh, as they generally have bigger apertures and more circular blades inside them. Cheaper lenses usually don’t have such big maximum apertures and may have straighter blades which result in hexagonal shapes instead of circles.

Luckily, for many of you, a 50mm f/1.8 lens is usually quite affordable (at between £80-£150) and will produce lovely bokeh like that in this shot below.

50mm lens; f/1.8; 1/1000; ISO 125

  • Use Aperture Priority mode (or Manual) and set an aperture of f/1.4 – f/2.8. If your lens won’t go this wide open then just set it on its biggest aperture.
  • Shooting close to your subject and / or zooming in will cause the background to blur and help to create bokeh.
  • Make sure there’s some distance between your subject and the background.
  • Experiment with lots of different shots to see what works.
  • Remember that any highlights or actual lights will be circular bokeh (or hexagon depending on the lens).

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